The Best Cushioned Running Shoes

For the spring of 2018 we saw some great updates on staple shoes and the addition of three brand new shoes from Altra, Brooks and Hoka. As a trend we’re seeing cushioned shoes get lighter and lighter. The stereotype that cushioned shoes are only reserved for slower training runs is quickly becoming a thing of the past.  Companies are increasingly finding ways to shed ounces without sacrificing comfort and cushioning. This trend was evident this season with three shoes, the Hoka One One Mach, Altra Duo and On Cloudflyer all coming in under the nine-ounce marker. However, the shoe that stood out among the group was the Hoka One One Mach, which earned the Best In Class Award. The Mach offered runners the whole package, comfortable, cushioned and down right speedy.  

Interested in joining our running shoe test team? Email us at recruiting@gearinstitute.com.

Review Year
Best in Class
Overall Rating
Price
Name Overall Rating Ratings The Good The Bad Price
Hoka One One Mach
93
Best in Class
2018
Comfort 7
Fit 8
Responsiveness 9
Speed 10
Ride Quality 9

Smooth, energy efficient ride

Excellent cushioning

Speedy

Airy breathable upper

Outsole wares quickly

Slick on wet surfaces

Thin tongue causes lacing pressure

MSRP
$140.00
BEST DEAL
Brooks Ghost 9
92
Best in Class
2016
Comfort 9
Fit 9
Responsiveness 8
Speed 7
Ride Quality 9

Fantastic value

Updated upper drastically improves comfort

Durable

Improved flexibility for better toe off

Increased weight from Ghost 8

Steep (12mm) heel drop may cause issues for forefoot strikers

MSRP
$120.00
BEST DEAL
Adidas Supernova
91
Best in Class
2017
Comfort 8
Fit 8
Responsiveness 8
Speed 8
Ride Quality 9

Extremely responsive

Lasting midsole cushioning

Durable & grippy outsole

Quick for weight class

Difficult lacing structure

Stiff overlays

Heavy upper lacks ventilation

MSRP
$129.99
BEST DEAL
Saucony Ride 9
90
Comfort 8
Fit 9
Responsiveness 8
Speed 7
Ride Quality 8

Competitive price point

Lightest in category

Extremely responsive

Lighter, more comfortable upper

Reduced padding around the heel collar vs Ride 8

Little arch support

MSRP
$120.00
BEST DEAL
Hoka One One Vanquish 2
89
Best in Class
2016
Comfort 9
Fit 5
Responsiveness 9
Speed 7
Ride Quality 9

Highly cushioned

Extremely lightweight

Soft yet springy midsole

Responsive

Pricey

Narrow fit

Stiff feeling upper

Lacks breathability

MSRP
$170.00
BEST DEAL
Saucony Hurricane ISO2
88
Comfort 8
Fit 7
Responsiveness 8
Speed 7
Ride Quality 8

Cushioned and supportive

Excellent energy return

Well padded & extremely comfortable

Lacing system feels awkward

Heavy overall weight

Sizes small

MSRP
$160.00
BEST DEAL
Brooks Glycerin 14
88
Comfort 8
Fit 7
Responsiveness 8
Speed 7
Ride Quality 8

Great flexibility for toe off

Comfortable

Cushioned but not bulky

Pricy

Under heel foam felt mushy

Midsole firmness breaks down quickly

MSRP
$160.00
BEST DEAL
Brooks Ravenna 8
88
Comfort 8
Fit 6
Responsiveness 7
Speed 8
Ride Quality 9

Lightweight

Responsive

Mild support without sacrificing performance

Speedy

Excess room in toe box

Narrow fit

Heel slippage

Long break-in period

MSRP
$120.00
BEST DEAL
Mizuno Wave Rider 19
87
Comfort 5
Fit 7
Responsiveness 9
Speed 9
Ride Quality 7

Extremely lightweight

Better fit over Wave Rider 18

Responsive and ready to rip

Quite stiff

Lacks all day comfort

Very firm ride

MSRP
$119.99
BEST DEAL
Adidas Ultra Boost ST
86
Comfort 9
Fit 6
Responsiveness 7
Speed 6
Ride Quality 8

Over-the-top comfort

Rock solid durability

Excellent shock absorption

Excessively pricey

Very heavy

Fits a bit big

MSRP
$180.00
BEST DEAL
Adidas Supernova Sequence 9
86
Comfort 8
Fit 5
Responsiveness 8
Speed 7
Ride Quality 8

Snappy & responsive

Boost midsole is durable

Outsole excels in any terrain

Supportive yet offers good flexibility

Sizes large

Upper quickly shows signs of wear

Bulky feel

MSRP
$130.00
BEST DEAL
ASICS GEL-Kayano 23
86
Comfort 8
Fit 7
Responsiveness 7
Speed 6
Ride Quality 8

Exceptional durability

Provides excellent support

New midsole offers better cushioning at a lighter weight

Narrow fitting upper

Steep price point

Break-in period needed

MSRP
$160.00
BEST DEAL
Saucony Triumph ISO 3
86
Comfort 9
Fit 8
Responsiveness 6
Speed 6
Ride Quality 7

Loads of cushioning

Form-fitting upper

Over-the-top comfortable

Soft midsole reduces responsiveness

Bulky

Lacks snappiness

MSRP
$150.00
BEST DEAL
Brooks Levitate
86
Comfort 10
Fit 7
Responsiveness 8
Speed 4
Ride Quality 7

Plush cushioning

Soft responsive ride

Durable midsole

Comfortable padding along collar

Extremely sole heavy

Tight fit through metatarsals

Not suited for up-tempo running

Two-ply upper can overheat

MSRP
$150.00
BEST DEAL
On Cloudflyer
86
Comfort 8
Fit 5
Responsiveness 7
Speed 9
Ride Quality 7

Responsive ride

Light and flexible fit is comfortable

Inside liner in upper is soft

Slippery on wet surfaces

Segmented outsole picks up rocks

Durability lacks longevity

Sizes long

MSRP
$159.99
BEST DEAL
Nike LunarGlide 8
85
Comfort 8
Fit 7
Responsiveness 6
Speed 7
Ride Quality 7

Extremely comfortable

Lightweight

Excellent ride quality

Competitive price point

Lacks durability, outsole breaks down quickly

Debris gets stuck in treads

Excess room in heel cup

MSRP
$120.00
BEST DEAL
Nike Air Zoom Vomero 13
85
Comfort 8
Fit 7
Responsiveness 7
Speed 5
Ride Quality 8

Upgraded Flywire cables

Excellent cushioning

Padded tongue

Foam breaks down quickly

Narrow fitting upper

Fairly slow

Lacks sufficient ventilation for hot days

MSRP
$140.00
BEST DEAL
Altra Duo
85
Comfort 7
Fit 6
Responsiveness 7
Speed 8
Ride Quality 7

Unbelievably lightweight

Highly breathable upper

Great for wide feet

Flexible midsole for strong toe off

Not suitable for heel strikers

Unique fit is an acquired feel

Outsole can pick up debris

Flared midsole chaffs inner leg easily

MSRP
N/A
BEST DEAL
Hoka One One Clifton 3
84
Comfort 8
Fit 7
Responsiveness 5
Speed 6
Ride Quality 8

Updated upper offers much better fit

Lightweight for so much cushioning

Durable midsole and outsole

Large size feels bulky

Lacked responsiveness

Mushy feeling EVA foam

MSRP
$130.00
BEST DEAL
Skechers GOrun Forza
83
Comfort 8
Fit 8
Responsiveness 5
Speed 5
Ride Quality 7

Excellent cushioning & shock absorption

Smooth transition

Superb stability

Feels a bit bulky

Canted midsole which favors pronation feels odd

Questionable durability

MSRP
$120.00
BEST DEAL
Saucony Guide 10
82
Comfort 8
Fit 5
Responsiveness 6
Speed 6
Ride Quality 7

Excellent price point for stability shoe

Comfortable upper

Lightweight

Sizes narrow

Rocks stick to outsole

MSRP
$120.00
BEST DEAL
Hoka One One Bondi 5
81
Comfort 8
Fit 7
Responsiveness 5
Speed 4
Ride Quality 7

Exceptionally comfortable

Newly designed upper

Increased midsole/outsole durability

Bulky

Slow and unresponsive

MSRP
$150.00
BEST DEAL
Under Armor Bandit 2
80
Comfort 7
Fit 6
Responsiveness 5
Speed 7
Ride Quality 5

Most affordable shoe

Comfortable sock-like upper

Lightweight

Excess foot movement during run

Lacked responsive feel

Firm outsole

MSRP
$100.00
BEST DEAL
New Balance 860v7
80
Comfort 6
Fit 7
Responsiveness 7
Speed 5
Ride Quality 5

Flexible well fitting upper

Exceptional stability for overpronation

Durable midsole and outsole

Firm midsole offers little forgiveness

Heel orientated

MSRP
$124.99
BEST DEAL
N/A
Mizuno Wave Horizon 2
80
Fit 8
Comfort 5
Responsiveness 6
Ride Quality 8
Speed 3

Excellent cushioning and stability

Great hybrid road/trail shoe

Great protection for heavy runners

Energy loss in midsole

Poor ventilation

Hard to run fast

MSRP
$160.00
BEST DEAL
New Balance Fresh Foam 1080v8
79
Comfort 6
Fit 9
Responsiveness 5
Speed 4
Ride Quality 5

Extremely durable

Perfect fit

Improved upper for better fit and breathability

Supportive

Stiff, rigid feeling

Inflexible midsole

Not suited for fast running

Narrow sweet spot

MSRP
$149.99
BEST DEAL
New Balance 1260v6
79
Comfort 7
Fit 6
Responsiveness 6
Speed 4
Ride Quality 6

Exceptional support and stability

Durable midsole

Comfortable upper

Rigid and stiff feeling

Sluggish due to heavy weight

Large for size

MSRP
$149.99
BEST DEAL
Brooks Transcend 3
76
Comfort 5
Fit 6
Responsiveness 5
Speed 4
Ride Quality 6

Excellent support with a solid foundation

Lasting durability makes it an excellent everyday trainer

Excellent motion control

Hefty price tag

Overly stiff and uncomfortable

Runs big

MSRP
$170.00
BEST DEAL
Mizuno Wave Inspire 12
76
Comfort 6
Fit 7
Responsiveness 4
Speed 4
Ride Quality 5

Stable and very supportive

A workhorse and durable shoe

Excellent overpronation control

Stiff and uncomfortable

A bit narrow

Lacks feel and responsiveness

MSRP
$119.99
BEST DEAL
Nike Air Zoom Odyssey 2
76
Comfort 7
Fit 6
Responsiveness 5
Speed 4
Ride Quality 4

Excellent support for moderate to severe overpronators

Good choice for heel strikers

Comfortable upper

Lacks durability

Less responsive compared to others

Very little forefoot cushioning

MSRP
$150.00
BEST DEAL
Altra Paradigm 2.0
74
Comfort 7
Fit 5
Responsiveness 4
Speed 3
Ride Quality 5

Roomy toe box for wide feet

Very light

Suitable for heavier runners

Firm outsole reduces ride quality

Zero drop not for beginners

Midsole requires some use to soften up

MSRP
$130.99
BEST DEAL
Zoot Laguna
73
Comfort 4
Fit 4
Responsiveness 5
Speed 5
Ride Quality 5

Lightweight makes a faster feeling shoe

Easy to get up on toes to push-off

Runs a bit narrow and small

Very little support and stability

Lacks forefoot cushioning

MSRP
$115.00
BEST DEAL
ASICS GEL-Quantum 360 CM
69
Comfort 4
Fit 3
Responsiveness 4
Speed 4
Ride Quality 4

Full midsole cushion

Seamless mesh upper

Durable outsole material

Extremely long and narrow fit

Heaviest shoe tested

Most expensive shoe in category

MSRP
$170.00
BEST DEAL
Nike Air Zoom Vomero 13

Now in it’s 13th iteration, the Nike Air Zoom Vomero 13 isn’t a partially sexy neutral trainer, but instead a reliable classic cushioned trainer. All the testers agreed the Vomero 13 to more of a jack of all trades, master of none type of trainer, never standing out in one category, but scoring well across all. As one tester put it, “A versatile shoe for roads, dirt, light snow and treadmill running.”

Read the Full Review Shop Now at Amazon.com

Hoka One One Mach

The Mach is one of the best well-rounded road shoes we’ve tested and as one tester put it, “If I could only have one road shoe this would be the one.” It had the whole package; it’s lightweight, responsive, cushioned and just whole lot of fun to run in. A direct descendant of the Clayton, the Mach maintained everything people enjoyed about the Clayton, while fixing everything people didn’t like. Hoka’s new dual density ProFly midsole delivers seemingly opposing forces of a soft landing with a firm take off.

Read the Full Review Shop Now at Amazon.com

Brooks Levitate

As a newcomer to the Brooks cushioned lineup, the Brooks Levitate proves it already earned the right to sit alongside best sellers like the Glycerin and Ghost. Boasting a brand new midsole compound called DNA AMP, the Levitate blends a uniquely springy and fun cushioned ride with a snug fitting, secure upper. While our testers raved about how comfortable and enjoyable this neutral everyday trainer was, they also found the shoe to be one of the slowest in the cushioned class. Tipping the scales at 11.2oz for men and 9.7oz for women, the Levitate is best suited for days when speedy times aren’t a priority and comfort rules.

Read the Full Review Shop Now at Moosejaw

On Cloudflyer

On’s approach to the Cloudflyer is simple, freedom of movement with added cushioning while still maintaining a touch of stability. The Cloudflyer is a lightweight, flexible trainer that has characteristics of both a minimalist shoe and stability trainer. Most suited for lighter runners who appreciate a less-restrictive shoe that rides close to the ground, it lacks the structure most comfort trainers have. The flexibly and minimal design decrease durability, causing it to be one the least durable shoes tested.

Read the Full Review Shop Now at Amazon.com

Altra Duo

As the newest addition to the Altra line of zero drop road shoes, the Duo brilliantly strikes the ultimate balance of cushioning-to-weight ratio. Despite a the massive full length 31mm stack the Duo tips the scales at an astonishing 7.9oz for men and 5.3oz for women, making them one of the lightest and fastest shoes in the cushioned category. The Duo, like all Altra shoes are headlined by Altra’s unique Foot Shape design, to allow the toes to splay out naturally and a zero drop for a more naturally balanced run. While this rather non-traditional approach does take time to adjust too, the ride is easy going, responsive and cushioned. The only downside is some my find the excess space to feel insecure, giving the shoe a loss fit.

Read the Full Review Shop Now at Amazon.com

New Balance Fresh Foam 1080v8

While all of our testers agreed the New Balance 1080v8 to be one the stiffer more rigid shoes tested, it’s beefy build and firm midsole also made it one of the most durable shoes we’ve tested. With a small sweet spot favoring heavier runners who can generate enough force to get flexion through the stiff midsole, lighter runners may struggle with the stiffness and find the shoe difficult to handle. Once in the saddle, a tight knit mesh upper offers a secure fit and accommodating toe box.

Read the Full Review Shop Now at Road Runner Sports

Adidas Supernova

The Adidas Supernova covers all the bases: an endless supply of energy-returning cushioning and a responsive fun-to-run-in ride at an excellent value. The Supernova proves itself as a great option for a wide array of runners, offering exceptional cushioning without sacrificing performance though breathability could be improved.

Read the Full Review Shop Now at Backcountry.com

Brooks Ravenna 8

The Brooks Ravenna 8 is hands down the winner for best performing daily trainer with support. Offering mild support from overpronation, the Ravenna 8 feels more like a neutral running shoe, which is why it out-performed all the other supportive shoes tested this season. The Brooks Ravenna 8 is a comfortable, responsive and reliable daily trainer with the peculiar combination of a narrow fit and an overly roomy toe box.

Read the Full Review Shop Now at GearTrade.com

Saucony Triumph ISO 3

The Saucony Triumph ISO 3 is a top pick for those wanting soft cushioning for cranking out lots of miles. Saucony improved the upper from the previous version, making it softer and more flexible. Nevertheless, it still feels bulky to wear.

Read the Full Review Shop Now at REI.com

Saucony Guide 10

Classified as a stability shoe, the Saucony Guide 10 runs more like a hybrid of neutral cushioning with supportive stability. Offering a much softer ride than other stability shoes, the Guide 10 outperforms the other stability shoes in just about every category making it a great option for those needing mild support while still maintaining great overall performance. 

Read the Full Review Shop Now at REI.com

See All Cushioned Running Shoes Reviews

Comfort Road Running Shoe Review Results

by: Last Updated:

Nothing beats a great-fitting, comfortable pair of running shoes. Mile after mile your feet pound the pavement with roughly three times your body weight and the only protection between the ground and your feet (hence your knees, etc.) are a pair of shoes. Having a good pair of running shoes to protect you is the single most important piece of equipment a runner can own, yet with so many options on the market today, finding the perfect pair can be an exhaustive and often times an uninformative process.  

To help simplify the shoe buying process Gear Institute divides road shoe tests between two categories: Cushioned and Lightweight Road Shoes. Cushioned shoes are designed primarily for shock absorption and comfort. They tend to have thicker midsoles and are heavier which make them slower and less efficient then their lightweight counterparts, but are generally more comfortable and durable. Shoes weighing 10 ounces for men and 8 ounces for women and/or have stack heights (the total height of material between the ground and your heel and toes) of 20mm or more under the heel are placed in the cushioned category for testing.

While it’s not necessary to know the entire anatomy of a running shoe, it is helpful to understand a few key parts of the shoe. The two most predominate parts of a running shoe are the midsole and the upper. The midsole, which makes up the majority of material between your foot and the ground is usually made of either a ethyl vinyl acetate (know as EVA) or a polyurethane foam compound. Every company’s midsole is unique and can vary greatly from super soft to downright firm.  The marker of a well made midsole isn’t how firm or soft the foam feels (that’s more of a matter of personal preference), but how the midsole absorbs energy as it strikes the ground and then is able to return that energy upward and forward. This energy give-and-take measures the responsiveness of a shoe. Typically softer midsoles will be less responsive then their firmer counterparts.

The upper encompasses almost everything above the midsole and is primarily designed to comfortably secure the shoe on your feet. A well-designed upper will be soft, breathable and will securely wrap the foot. One of the trends we saw during our test was the tendency to lighten up and reduce heavy overlays throughout the upper, enhancing both comfort and fit.

Comfort

A look at the ankle collar padding of the Brooks Levitate as compared to the Brooks Glycerin 15.

Most runners look to shoes in this category to offer a comfortable fit and enjoyable ride. Comfort is most affected by two things: how the upper fits and feels and what the underfoot experience is like. As expected, comfort was the highest average scoring category across all our mini-categories with an average rating of 7.6. One shoe easily emerged as the most comfortable, the Brooks Levitate. Testers raved about how comfortable and enjoyable this neutral trainer was.  Outfitted with the all-new Brooks DNA AMP midsole, the Levitate is true bliss for your feet.

Fit

Fit can be somewhat subjective, so to keep things consistent we look at what the majority of our testers noted regarding how each shoe fit them. The best fitting shoe as noted by our testers was the New Balance 1080v8. It scored a 9 out of 10. The New Balance 1080v8 pleased all our testers with it’s soft form fitting upper that seemed to wrap the foot perfectly while accommodating a wide range of foot widths. Another top fitting shoe, our Best In Class winner, the Hoka One One Mach also offered a well-fitting soft upper designed with smooth syncing lacing system.

Responsiveness

Finding the perfect balance between feeling too soft and too firm can be a tricky task for shoes designed primarily for comfort. However, Hoka did an excellent job of assuring the Mach was both soft and responsive. The Hoka One One Mach scored a 9 out of 10 in responsiveness due to the midsole ability to pop with each ground strike while giving the runner an energized feeling. The Brooks Levitate and New Balance 1080v8 landed as the least responsive shoes, each scoring only a 4 out of 10. Testers found the midsole on the Levitate to be way too soft, sapping the majority of energy needed to score high while the 1080v8 was quite the opposite—firm and lacking pop.

Speed

A look at the three lightest and fastest shoes: On CloudFlyer, Altra Duo and Hoka One One Mach.

While speed isn’t a top priority in shoes fitted for comfort, it’s always nice to know you can pick up the pace without your shoes holding you back. The fastest shoe tested belonged to Hoka One One’s Mach. The Mach is part of Hoka’s new Fly Collection. Three shoes focused on maintaining a soft cushioned ride while offering a speedy ride. The combination of a responsive dual density midsole with the light overall weight fostered a shoe that was both comfortable and capable of moving fast when needed. The slowest shoes of the test were the New Balance 1080v8 and Brooks Levitate, whose heavier weight made them better suited for slower runs.

Ride Quality

While everyone’s ideal ride will vary, there are certain aspects of how a shoe runs that give the shoe a smooth riding quality. The best running shoes will have a smooth and even feel underfoot, making a seamless transition from footstike to takeoff, regardless of where the foot strikes the ground. Scores were across the board, ranging from a near perfect 9 to the slightly subaverage 4 on our charts. Most of the shoes tested offered a enjoyable ride scoring in the 7 range, however our Best In Class winner, the Hoka One One Mach offered the smoothest ride of the bunch.

Conclusion

Overall, spring 2017 had a diverse group of shoes from downright cushy and comfortable as seen in the Brooks Levitate to stripped down and super light with the Altra Duo. Half the shoes tested this season—those from Hoka, Altra and Brooks—were brand new models while the others were updates on previous models. Each shoe was put through miles and miles across male and female testers. When all the results were in, there was agreement across all testers: Hoka One One Mach was the top choice. It offered the whole package—lightweight design in a cushioned responsive ride.  While the Hoka One Mach was clearly the top among all shoes tested there was less of a spread between the rest of the shoes. Only a one point difference separates the next top four shoes. The Brooks Levitate highlighted by it’s soft fitting upper and ultra plush midsole was tops in comfort while the New Balance 1080v8 offered testers the most consistent and best fitting shoe. On’s Cloudflyer with its unique midsole design gave runners a more natural minimal feel, while still offering a hint of cushioning.  Perhaps one of the most classic cushioned trainers, the Nike Vomero 13, remained largely unchanged—the Nike Vomero 12 was our Best In Class winner two seasons ago. The newly added Altra Duo surprised our testers with its astonishing light overall weight while maintaining 31mm of cushioning underfoot.

Test Methods

Each summer and winter when shoe companies release their latest models Gear Institute receives the top shoes and puts each through an extensive testing process.  A team of five male and female testers put each shoe through the test of miles over terrain such as concrete, asphalt, grass, dirt and track. Each shoe is judged on five categories: Comfort, Fit, Responsiveness, Speed and Ride Quality and given a score of 1 to 10, with 10 being perfect.

Testing protocol for road running shoes involves an extensive hands-on process across multiple testers over a period of at least two months. Each tester is an avid runner, running over 30 miles per week over varying terrain including but not limited to concrete, asphalt, grass, track and dirt. The testing team is structured with a team lead and several wear testers.  All testers, including the team lead and wear testers receive samples of each shoe to be worn over a period of at least two months. Techniques such as running one mile in one pair, then switch to another shoe are used to compare the subtleties of each shoe. Each tester records his/her overall impressions of each shoe and details relating to comfort, fit, responsiveness, speed and ride quality. The team lead then collects the reports to generate the final reviews.